simplicity itself

disc brake

this is an old story, one that i'm sure i have related in several forms over a number of years, but it's somewhat of a handy device, and nonetheless true for all its repetition. i like simple stuff. granted, the ingenuity employed in such as the recently reviewed rohloff hub gear is a wonder to behold, and i did rather enjoy poring over the cutaway, vainly attempting to figure out how it all worked. i say 'vainly' because i am still none the wiser. but my considerable experience of complexity has taught that when it works, it generally works well; when it stops working, it's probably going to cost you a fortune.

in this respect, the bicycle industry would seem to be pulling in two opposing directions. on one hand there are the chaps from vicenza who have added that spinal tap sprocket, thus increasing the notional complexity of the gearchanging mechanism; there is far less room to manoeuvre in terms of adjustment. but in principal, it still works the same way as ye good olde ten speed racer. at the opposite end of the spectrum, in order to make life as simple as possible for joe/josephine punter (sorry to be so superior and disparaging, but i thought it sounded a tad humorous), the parts and accessories have, perhaps of necessity, become more complex. there is an analogy with computer programming here that is difficult to pass up, even if i'm not sure i remember all the niceties.

basically (sorry, computer pun there) most modern computer programming languages are described as 'high level' (correct me if i'm wrong), meaning that a compiler has to translate a language that is comprehensible (relative term) to humans into the binary code on which computers thrive. much further down the pecking order is, or certainly used to be, machine code, a language far more easily interpreted by the machine (hence the name), but all but unintelligible to joe and josephine. thus in order to make life easier for the non-cyclist, machinery needs a frisson of complexity, as against the simplicity of a derailleur system.

disc brake

but the thin end of the wedge is already in view, having been advised that the uci have acquiesced over the matter of disc brakes on cross bikes. in my opinion, it is a bit of a farce that other than specific downhill mountain bikes require hydraulic disc brakes. cantilevers and linear pull brakes surely provide as much stopping power as could be required by anyone other than the most gonzo of headbangers. agreed, it saves wear on the rims, but i'm none too sure just how much of a problem that ever was in the first place. and is it really only a matter of time before the uci relent on discs on road bikes? how many of us have been in a situation where all would have been saved had there been hydraulics on the skinny wheels? not many, i'll warrant.

(in fairness i should point out that currently there are no hydraulic systems that will work with sti style levers, so for the current cyclocross season, cable discs are the only viable option. but avid/sram expect to have hydraulics available by the 2013 season.)

yet already i have seen calls, from those who i had rather hoped would know better, for the governing body to seriously consider allowing discs to become a legal addition to tour de france and classics bicycles. i'm sure the cycle manufacturers would love such an about turn, as the me too mentality would doubtless help sell a whole new generation of carbon, totally ignorant of the fact that such stopping power is unlikely to be a requirement for the majority of purchasers. lest you think i overstate my case, look around at all the tiny tots on full suspension mountain bikes replete with discs.

disc brake

aside from my dislike of having to ride on metalled roads with knobbly tyres to play and get muddy, before doing the same journey in reverse, it is/was the simplicity of the road bike that attracted me to skinny wheels and bendy bars in the first place. that and the fact that they are easier to pedal faster. mountain bikes have become increasingly complex through their ever evolving frame design, full suspension with gas/air/oil and hydraulic disc brakes, and it keeps me awake at night that road bikes could conceivably be heading the same way.

yes, there will always be those available that embody the relative simplicity that we are happy to embrace at the moment, but if the industry plays it the way they play most things, those are not going to be the top of the range excitement that gives us our pleasures at the moment. brake and gear cables are easy to replace; i'm not sure how one copes if one of those di2 wires snags on a bit of discarded fence just a few metres short of the atlantic ocean (it happens). really, i'm not sure.

so how happy would you be if, prior to each ride to the coffee shop, other than pumping up the tyres, you had to check battery levels and bleed the air from the hydraulics? the pros have chaps in the car behind to take care of all such niceties, a factor that seems totally lost on manufacturers who make bicycles for their sponsored riders, then sell the developments to the rest of us. a luddite i may yet again be, and far be it from me to stand in the way of progress, but i really don't want anyone to put hydraulic disc brakes on my colnago or cielo.

a simple request n'est pas?


posted thursday 23 september 2010

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wheretoride; london, by nick woodford. ba press 256pp illus. spiral bound £14.95

where to ride in london

i do receive the occasional disparaging e-mail, berating me for having an opinion, or more likely because mine differs from that of the correspondent. some, quite rightly, are pointing out errors in my writings, spelling, and a few asking if i would please consider using capital letters (no; it's a feature, not a bug). and every now and again, an e-mail arrives either asking me to quote for a washingmachine (honestly), or wishing to sell me vast quantities of electric motors. hence the disclaimer at the top of the page. but i'm pleased to say that the majority of correspondence is of the pleasant variety, and while i have no real complaint about either, it's the latter that is more welcome in my inbox.

however, all that may change from this point, though i'd rather hope not. under consideration is nick woodford's excellent book in the where to ride series describing fifty rides around london, as well as a few rides for kids. the book is a wonder to behold in all aspects of construct, sequence, illustration and direction, so you may well be wondering why it is that i would expect an influx of negative comment.

where to ride in london

i have acres and acres of open ground, fabulous countryside, sleepy little singletrack lanes and the most amazing aspect over the atlantic you can have this far south. the sky is virtually unbroken for all 360 degrees, and i need only lift the bicycle from the bikeshed and take a few steps forward, and i am already out and about. in my brief experience of london, it isn't like that at all. i need only bring up the subject of this year's rapha hell of the north ride to underline what i mean. you may remember that i was not on the start line for that particular event because i got lost en-route to highgate, making it only as far as oxford street; a pathetic attempt.

this should be tempered by the knowledge that many of those attending the annual ride of the falling rain manage to get lost (well, sort of) en route to ardbeg distillery, but i would tender that it's a darned sight easier to find your way around an island of 3,500 folks than the backstreets of london. and then i wonder why anyone would want to go for a leisurely ride around london in the first place.

where to ride in london

and that's what i figure might get me into trouble.

and i can see the point of any inbound hassle. how dare a long-haired scottish prat, who can't even find his way to the centre of the country's capital city, question the need for residents of that metropolis to enjoy pedalling their bicycles of an evening or, perchance, a weekend. it's a bit smug, not to say high and mighty, to flaunt my hebridean wide open spaces as if they are in any way superior to the scenery in the country's major conurbation. so i have decided not to compare anad contrast or even enter the comparative battleground. some of us choose to stay miles from anywhere, and some don't, or don't want, the option.

nick woodford's book is great; the spiral binding eases the need of misanthropes such as myself to keep it open at the page that is going to help me not get lost. the front cover opens out like a roger dean gatefold sleeve, showing an extended map of the london area with each numbered route placed in its geographical context; a very helpful feature for those totally ignorant of what goes where, and how to get there. tips and hints on how to use the book and an essentials checklist are well to the fore in the opening pages. excellent advice indeed, though i wonder whether perhaps nick may wish to avail himself of some of his own: 'it's a good idea to give your bike a clean'. now it may be that the opening photos of nick and his bicycle are not as clear as was hoped, but it doesn't look to me as shiny as the advice would suggest. a trivial matter, but pedantry needs to be upheld.

where to ride in london

there is comprehensive detail on taking your bicycle on public transport, how to get by on the off-road sections, london underground, and for those out of town, such as myself, practical ways of transporting self and steed to london.

each ride is accompanied by a full page map, a linear illustration of the route profile and a smattering of appropriate photographs. the text is paragraphed at significant kilometres, in an at a glance format and in well-written descriptive text. comprehensive indeed. there is every chance that even i could manage to get from start to finish in any one of the rides therein, and that is no mean feat for one so bereft of a sense of direction. i am also rather impressed and somewhat ashamed to admit my earlier misgivings; there are some fine rides and particularly enjoyable scenery on show, and i really should have remembered the rather excellent ride out past crystal palace, that substituted for missing the rapha ride (thank you john). and for those with kids, there are some rides of under 4km for the little people in your life towards the back of the book.

i don't doubt that there are many living in the capital, blissfully unaware of the riding possibilities who, for a mere £14.95 could have their riding careers altered substantially for the better. and those who may have to work in london for a period, or visit for a brief passage of time, could gain much from this welcome addition to london's cycling literature.

just don't e-mail to inform of my fallibility; i have made myself aware of this through the preceding paragraphs. (strange to relate, the book is published by ba press in new south wales, australia; go figure).

nick woodford's 'where to ride in london' costs £14.95 and is available both online at cordee books and through good booksellers.

where to ride in london


posted wednesday 22 september 2010

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red letter day

sram red box

in mediaeval times the church produced the equivalent of today's newsletters, and possibly even the antecedent of thewashingmachinepost in the form of religious calendars. these illuminated manuscripts often had the initial capital letters preceding any written discourse in script or blackletter marked in red, as often were highlighted words, known as rubrics. the first council of nicaea in 325ad decreed all saints' days, holy days and feasts which were subsequently printed on calendars also in red. in 1549, the first book of common prayer was issued marking special holy days in red ink. on these red letter days, english high court judges wear their scarlet robes at sittings of the court of law.

the arrival of a brand new sram red groupset might also conceivably be considered a red letter day.

the chris king cielo currently residing cosily in thewashingmachinepost bike shed arrived wearing a sram rival groupset; everything apart from the calipers, because the cielo has more than adequate clearance for a beautiful set of full wood fenders, necessitating a deeper drop than currently provided for by either sram or campagnolo. shimano are the only ones providing a quality set of 58mm drop brakes, so the cielo has a pair of those. this was not my first experience of a sram groupset and its idiosyncratic double-tap shift levers, but it was certainly my first lengthy opportunity to do so, and i can honestly say that it has been a real pleasure. the gearing seems far more tolerant of what would likely cause a mis-shift on any of the other two, and deals very well with slightly maladjusted cables, though aesthetically it is nothing to write home about.

sram red cassette

all the components are, however, particularly well made, from the alloy compact chainset down to the front derailleur, and aside from pilot incompetence in the double-tap department, it has worked beautifully for the last eight months.

however, a sram rival groupset costs, according to a quick poll of the online retailers i could find, around £500, less than half the cost of sram's current top of the range red groupset, and given how well it has behaved through thick and thin, i began to wonder, as i do when out on the cielo for a while, just how much better could a red groupset be? and was the extra 500 or so pounds sterling really justified by a few carefully applied coloured stripes. i am extremely grateful to uk sram distributors, fisheroutdoor who kindly acquiesced to my request for a red groupset to fit on the cielo so that i could satisfy my, and your, curiosity.

it is perhaps stating the obvious that the kit sent from fisheroutdoor was minus the bottom bracket; for this is a chris king cielo we are dicussing here, and while i have no wish to disparage that particular component from sram, i doubt it could improve on the resident bearings from portland. currently decorating cielo frame and forks are a pair of red double-tap shifters, complete with gore ride-on cables, a red rear derailleur, front derailleur, carbon chainset, hollow pin chain and a 1090 cassette. sram red cassette prior to hitting the nitty-gritty, i feel it only right and proper that i point out the effectiveness of sram's cardboard packaging. though the exterior trendy and colourfully red boxes suitably advertise their contents, there endeth the bling. the interior trays contoured to contain their respective components are constructed from porage coloured and textured, recycled paper material, similar to that used for egg-boxes. i would unreservedly like to award sram a whole chunk of brownie points for this; other than the odd plastic bag to keep safe those little bits that need to be kept safe, there is nary a smidgeon of plastic employed in what always becomes throwaway packaging. impressive attention to detail.

having stripped out the rival components ready for their higher quality replacements, i discovered the opening limits of my incompetence and misapprehension. the red front derailleur was the braze-on version, but the cielo frame bears not the necessary flange, the rival version being clamped in place. however, all was not lost; several manufacturers provide clamp-on braze-ons (if that doesn't sound too complex a concept), so i ordered one to aid the fitting procedure. of course, had i been a trifle more technically savvy, and likely a bit more observant, i would have seen that the rival front mech was secured to the clamp on the drive-side via an allen bolt. simply removing the rival mech from the clamp left the ideal space for the red front mech.

sram red double tap


however, my own oops was matched by one from sram themselves, an ommission not related to fisheroutdoor. sram chains join together with a use once power-link which, according to the labelling, is supplied along with the chain. only, in this case, it wasn't. being one of those resourceful chaps, i actually had the very item sitting in the shed, so it was a snap (pardon the pun) to fit the chain despite the missing link.

just saying.

though the rival chainset had the smaller rings of the compact chainset variety, the red chainset shifted me back to the days when men were men and chainrings were 53/39. this runs the hollow pin chain over a cassette carved from a single forged chunk and then cnc'd into the shape of a set of sprockets; only the smaller two were separate sets of teeth. whatever you think of the process or the idea, this has to be a more rigid structure; there is no way there can be any flex or independent movement from the sprockets, though this is undoubtedly the logical conclusion of the total lack of replaceability of any individual set of teeth. but then, who would ever think of doing that anyway?

sram red double tap

the chris king bottom bracket, previously discussed, remained in its reserved place. it's a beautiful piece of engineering in every sense of the word and concept, but in its natural form, it is not compatible with a sram crankset. the left crank fits onto the bottom bracket axle by sliding onto a set of splines machined into the non-drive side. it is then held in place by a substantial allen bolt sitting inside a built-in self extractor. it's a fairly common practice nowadays. however, those splines are longer than the chris king bottom bracket cups can cater for, meaning that the point at which the bolt has been fully tightened, there is still substantial play in the crank arms.

chris king supply their bottom brackets intended for use with sram chainsets complete with a machined spacer that slides over the splined section of the axle, reducing the length of the splined region, and allowing correct pressure to be exerted by the allen bolt,creating a rigid and perfectly adjusted crankset.

i will confess that, after the continued excellent service from its lesser sibling, i pretty much had this article pre-written in my head. sure, the red groupset has much to recommend it externally; i particularly love the enormous sram lettering on the inside of each carbon crankarm, but i'm kidding no-one that this has any bearing on its operation. in fact, couldn't see how the spending of an extra half-grand could possibly be justified, and i'm sure there are many of you nodding your heads in agreement.

sram red crank

but we are wrong. maybe not incontrovertibly wrong, but wrong nonetheless.

how the bits work and how well they do so is almost upon us, but aside from a very pleasing and modern aesthetic, transforming the cielo in more ways than one, there is an obvious benefit before a pedal has been turned. after the groupset had been fitted, it was lunchtime at washingmachinepost cottage; with rain on the horizon, the bicycle was returned to the bikeshed but with considerably less heft than had been required to take it out. the cielo is a steel frame and fork with normal wheels and tyres, so it will not trouble the uci commissaires, but the fitting of a full complement of sram red took it several steps closer. this is also apparent in the ride quality.

i'm a bit unsure where to start, but i don't think anyone would argue too much if we deal with the bits under each hand; those double-taps. i have done my very best to make allowances for the fact that the cables are brand new, something that always has a positive effect on any gear system, for at least a short period at any rate. a set of gore ride-on cables will likely accentuate this difference, but in practice not only are the shift levers encouragingly crisp and happy, they're far less prone to flex when double-tapped. shifting up or down is precision personified, and i've managed finally to figure out just how much of a push is necessary to slide the chain up the block (possibly the first time that description has been so apt).

sram red chainset

as someone with a long history of campagnolo spoken here, the on or off changing at the front has meant an adjusting of perception; there is no trimming of the front mech at all, either up or down, but comfortingly, once the cable adjustment is sorted, there really is no need anyway. setting up inner and outer stops is simplicity itself for those intent on avoiding an andy schleck moment.

as campagnolo shift (pardon the pun) their super record rear gear to 100% carbon fibre, and shimano retain the alloy construction of the dura-ace mech, sram occupy the middle ground with an aluminium alloy main body joined to a carbon inner link and jockey cage. however, the factor that adds a sparkle to the rudy projects is the employment of ceramic bearings round which the jockey wheels must revolve. you can huff and puff over the cost factor, but this is likely the first feature you'll notice within the first few pedal strokes, and it is a not insubstantial feature to notice. combine the double-tap levers with a solid-state cassette and a highly effective rear mech, and that chain slides up and down from eleven to 25 like a hot knife through butter.

i mentioned those brakes, did i not? a pair of beautifully machined and commendably shiny silver calipers arrived in the box, a pair of brakes that deserved to be reviewed in company with their compatriots. there is no way those can be fitted to the substantial frame clearance on the cielo, but they do fit the colnago master just dinky-doo, so that is where they currently reside. sram red rear mech unlike vicenza's offerings at the upper level, both front and rear utilise the dual-pivot principle, and very noticeably a set of pads manufactured by stopping favourites, swiss-stop. i am no engineer or informed mechanical expert, so i cannot argue with the construct in terms of their stopping power, but i do not favour their aesthetic. it's a trivial point, particularly regarding components that are all but hidden from the eye when pedalling, but i will concede that their shininess makes up for this at least in part. what is certainly not in question is their ability to stop a bicycle in a hurry.

there is a bit more squeeze required than i had expected, though this should be tempered with the knowledge that the colnago previously wore a pair of zero-g calipers that operate via a cam action and thus require less effort on behalf of the rider. campagnolo may well have the system well-sussed, having dispensed with a dual-pivot at the rear some years ago on the basis that that amount of power is not required on the rear brake. having never locked up the rear wheel on a campag equipped bicycle, i had done so twice in the space of a few hundered metres with those from red.

this is not a complaint; once awareness dawns, it is a simple matter of modulating the rear caliper under braking. it did not happen a third time.

sram red brake shoes

this is sram's top of the range groupset, so it is perhaps no real surprise that it all works as well as it does. they may be sponsored riders, but andy and bertie still have to pedal those s-works, and though you don't get first and second on the tour podium becasue of the colour of your groupset, it does have to perform flawlessly to allow a bit of concentration on those other factors that tour winners concentrate on.

but is it worth it compared to the rival groupset two doors down the hall?

i am a cynic. i am not pre-disposed to believe the marketing ploys of anyone. i dearly love colnagos in spite of their marketing, rather than because of it, and i know that anthony charteau would have been king of the mountains had he ridden any other brand of bicycle. so a cool logo and an impressive palmares are not really enough to persuade me to double that paypal expenditure for those features alone. but rather annoyingly, especially since i had already pre-judged the situation, and mentally decided the answer was no.

i was wrong, proving that pre-judgement favours no-one.

sram red caliper

it will take several more months of riding a red groupset, and bear in mind this is the same bicycle in both instances, to make an underlined judgement, but on the basis of a few weeks and some crap weather, i would have to say that in this case, double the money is pretty much the equivalent of double the value. i will come back at a later date to say whether the song remains the same, even if i got it wrong again. but i don't think so.

i must qualify this by saying that such an observation depends entirely on what you expect to get from your bicycle and what sort of riding you do. if you race, the question is almost pointless; red everytime. if you demand the very best for your cycling pleasure, my answer would be the same. however, if your cycling could more aptly be fitted into the category of aimless sauntering, i don't think red is necessarily for you. you'd notice the difference sure enough, but it is unlikely that you'd ever find its true limits and sram rival would carry out everything needed.

the law of diminishing returns has not been voided, but it's starting to look a little ragged round the seams.



posted tuesday 21 september 2010

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not waving but drowning


the sunday ride is sacrosanct. no matter what is happening in the world of islay jazz, the sunday ride, much like the show, must go on. and with the word autumnal fighting hard to be the word of the week, i'm very into donning the finest selection of appropriate cycle wear from the far corners of the wardrobe. it's not been too bad a summer, but there's something comforting, in a strange kind of way, to actually having to wear that rainjacket, rather than carrying it about in a back pocket all day, plus i now have the ideal excuse to wear long sleeves without receiving disapproving looks from the rest of the peletonese. it's hard enough standing out in a crowd without doing the same amongst one's own kind.

there is this idyllic slide into the depths of winter as depicted on telly, in calendars and in nostalgic books about yesteryear which sadly are not always borne out by reality. according to an eu directive, the temperature should become gradually a touch cooler, one or two leaves should be fluttering down from overhanging trees which themselves ought to look identical to postcard pictures of vermont in the fall. there would be the occasional flurry of rain by way of a light shower just as dusk falls; all this appreciated from the saddle, smug in the knowledge that little, if any, of this makes any sense from inside a car or a bus.

reality bites.

as i have intimated, the sunday ride has its place in modern society, and nothing should prevent it taking place week in week out. the wonderful thing about islay, and indeed all the west coast islands, is the acres of sky; it's easy to stand at the sitting room window looking out towards the atlantic, with a relatively clear view of any inbound weather. of course, depending on what exactly it is that is inbound, this finest of features can also be the cyclist's bete noir, a situation that occurred on sunday morn. while the rain had passed over as i stood emptying the contents of a scotts porage oats packet into a saucepan, my inadequacy as regards wind direction meant that it was hard to tell whether the slightly blacker clouds were leaving or arriving.


though the outcome was never in any real doubt, the mighty dave t called just to check that we were both singing from the same hymn sheet. the rains had all but left the region of his summer house, and had yet to precipitate on thewashingmachinepost bike shed, therefore the peloton was only minutes away from being formed (if, that is, two riders on a sunday morning have earmed the epithet, peloton).

in retrospect, and an honours degree in hindsight, somewhere in the foregoing, there was a chink in the armour; a glitch in our cunning plan. for no sooner than i had clipped the dromartis into the mavics, than more than just a smattering of rain began to fall. it's a strange thought that i pushed on rather quickly before any chance to reconsider could wedge its way into the strategy. you will, by now, have realised that the brief flurry, which should have been the preserve of dusk, as previously discussed, continued unabated all the way through bruichladdich until meeting with the mighty dave, who immediately enquired as to whose idea this had been.

it rained. incessantly would have been a good adjective had it not been for the occasional halt, lulling us into a false sense of security, but thankfully not into removing our rainwear (though in the face of such persistence, dry was certainly not an employable adjective.)


there have been better days, but, safe in the knowledge that it would make us better people, we did as all hardmen would, and knuckled down to our fate. let's face it, no matter the lyrics of d:ream's famous hit, things are not necessarily going to get better; if anything, they may just head in the opposite direction. we can wave goodbye to being fairweather cyclists, for drowning of a metaphorical nature could be the coming order of the day. but the secret to being a cyclist is the ability to embrace all that the weather can throw in our collective direction. how could we, as a species, hold our heads up in polite company if the admission of cowering in front of mere h2o were to become common knowledge? with reference to rule number five of the rules of cycling, we need to harden the f*** up and take it on the chin.

because if nothing else, a cappuccino after the event takes on the mantle of just reward.


posted monday 20 september 2010

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rapha long-sleeve polo shirt

john burgess quartet

opportunities are rarely so finely met to naturally test a product in its own habitat, and indeed its very own raison d'etre. as you may have seen from thursday's appendment to the usual trivia, this particular weekend encompasses the annual islay jazz festival, this year under new sponsorship from lagavulin distillery. this latter fact is germain to the story, so keep your eyes open for its resurgence in a later paragraph.

for twelve years now a weekend, including the friday, has been put aside for an influx of visitors and musicians; one group ready to listen and the other happy to play, and i am indeed grateful for having had the opportunity to be a part of this from both sides for all twelve years. my cohort in infamy, at least as far as having played at every edition of the festival, is the brazilian bassplayer, mario caribe, one of the nicest guys you could ever meet, and undoubtedly one of the finest double bass players in the world. in fact, if you listen closely, you can hear his latest album in the background.

rapha long sleeve polo

good, isn't it?

anyhow, i digress. my own fifteen minutes of fame having fleetingly passed on friday eve at bruichladdich hall, saturday dawns, and i acquire the mantle of civilian in matters of jazz, ready and eager to travel to a few select locations to hear playing that gives me joy, and all the more so because the fore and after can be accomplished on the bicycle. it is, i believe, unseemly and a mite flash to travel to such music-making on an orange and blue colnago, so i employed the services of the cielo, now sporting a rather fetching sram red groupset, of which more in the coming week.

while the dress code for the sunday ride stops short at anything less than full race kit (would it be that one had the cojones to race in the first place), such would be particularly ostentatious and a trifle loud to lose oneself at the back of the malt mill at lagavulin distillery (i told you there was an inherent connection afoot), so something a tad more staid in appearance, but nonetheless practical and comfortable would be the order of the day. it wouldn't be the first time in these pixels i have declared my affinity for long sleeves, and it will doubtless not be my last. it may not yet be winter, but the word autumnal has been used with increasing repetitiveness in the last few days; not without good cause. something long-sleeved under a waterproof seems a perfectly sensible idea.

rapha long sleeve polo

rapha delighted us with a merino polo shirt as part of the spring/summer range, a particularly fine garment that has seen many a day both on and off the bike, as perren street continues its tireless task of making at least this cyclist a bit less scruffy than the last twelve years of jazz have inculcated. but now, of course, we hear that the weather has become autumnal; colder times call for warmer sartorial elegance. so the necessity of cycling 25km to blend into a conservatively dressed islay jazz festival audience at lagavulin distillery seemed the ideal opportunity to test the long-sleeve polo shirt that is amongst the first of rapha's autumn winter range to hit the shelves (metaphorically speaking).

i did briefly mention a waterproof in a previous sentence, and i would hate for you to infer that the ride to lagavulin was conducted in a torrential downpour for this is indeed far from the truth. what i had, however, failed to incorporate into the equation relating distance to time was the almost inevitable headwind. you would not be unfair in expecting that this is something that would, by now, be second nature, but for some reason i always manage to get the direction all topsy turvy.

like today.

rapha long sleeve polo

so in spitting rain, i departed bowmore village en-route to lagavulin into a not insignificant headwind, dressed in fixed shorts, long-sleeve polo shirt, partially concealed under a supposedly breathable waterproof (but they're not, are they?). despite respite from the wind on the short section from port ellen to the distillery, arrival at the malt mill still produced a swot and hetty cyclist. but due to the wonders of merino wool utilised in both baselayer and polo shirt, not a smelly cyclist.

the aforementioned mr caribe was a prominent member of the combo shceduled at this particular venue, along with my pianist for the friday evening gig, and a maestro in his own right, paul harrison. i am quite proud to inform that i recorded a live cd with these two gentlemen several years ago. and the sax/clarinet player fronting the said combo, is also an acquaintance from a series of gigs played in the earlier part of the last decade.

anyway, having arrived unfashionably late, there was little else but to stand at the back of the upper circle in the malt mill, listening with open ears and partially obscured vision. despite the enforced dampness brought on by my unseasonable foray into an autumnal headwind, forcing exertion above and beyond the call of duty, it took remarkably little time to enter the dry state, at which point the only feature marking me out as a cyclist were likely the fixed shorts revealing decidedly untanned shins and calves.

rapha long sleeve polo

i am greatly in favour of long sleeves because they allow the versatility of being rolled up or down, and i am even more in favour of rapha's version because the tailoring of the entire garment is somewhat flattering to the honed physique.

i would love for you all to have been there, for the gig was a fine one, played with a sense of humour and musicianship at which i can only marvel from afar. it is my contention that almost all musical events fall into the category of either finishing far too soon, or dragging on well past the point at which someone should have known better. this one fell into the former category, at which time it was necessary to bid farewell, at least for the time being, to acquaintance, and face the tailwind home.

such was the effectiveness of the merino, that i had no need of a change when walking to the newsagent for saturday's guardian having returned home in the twinkling of an eye (relatively speaking). nor was it necessary later that same evening to roll gently up to ionad chaluim chille ile (islay's gaelic college) to attend yet another jazz event featuring pianist zoe rahman, whom i do not know at all, but then she'd say the same about me.

so here am i at the end of a long but very pleasant day, listening to mario's new recording on my macbook pro while i type an edition of thewashingmachinepost that i averred would be unlikely to appear. it would seem that improvisation is not the sole province of the jazz musician. and all the while still dressed in the rapha long-sleeve polo shirt, dry as a bone but considerably more comfortable and a darned sight better looking. the rapha logo is embroidered on a hoop on the left sleeve, entirely in black (unless you've bought the blue version), the collar buttons have the word rapha imprinted upon their circumference, and the inside of the collar is pink gingham, as are the two side darts at the hem. enhancing its practicality as a cycling garment are side panels for that on-the-bike fit, and a rear pocket capable of holding onto a phone, ipod or munchie bar.

rapha long sleeve polo

while it is common to view advertisements for wide-screen televisions and digital cameras where the picture filling the screen bears the disclaimer simulated picture, this review needs no such get out clause. i believe i have worn this garment under the very conditions for which it was born, and it has more than done itself justice.

with two more jazz events on my personal calendar to attend, at least i know what i'll be wearing.

the rapha long-sleeve polo shirt is available in sizes from x-small all the way up to xx large, in black or blue pure new zealand merino wool at a cost of £110 ($180)


posted saturday 18 september 2010

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the cafe diaries

look mum no hands

it's pretty much all you could want really; as your favourite obsession becomes ever more popular and the catcalls and snide remarks begin to desist, somewhere just to be seems a natural progression. it matters not a lot which particular department of obsessive behaviour is yours to own, because when it comes right down to it, we all have to pump our tyres, and doing so blesses no-one with superiority. rest is apparently as important as exercise while swimming upstream; those in their tin boxes need refuelling stops along the wayside, and though we may wish to emulate motorists in as few respects as possible, this may be one affectation worth adopting.

there are already cafes aplenty, dotted seemingly randomly about your local conurbation in numbers befitting the population density, but those are, based on notional observation, oft-times frequented by those dressed in what civilians like to refer to as normal clothes. lycra stands out like a spicy pumpkin latte. of course, sartorial elegance on and off the bicycle has come a good way since the motorola and polti jersey of yesteryear. there's a possibility that if you can pretend that the fixie leaning against the window isn't yours, you could even pass as a paid up member of civilian-ness as that frappucino is served with a hot panini.

rapha nyc

but if we're brutally honest, that's pretty much as good as it gets, or at least as good as it used to get. well-documented in these pixels has been the coincidental opening and subsequent rise of both look mum, no hands and its erstwhile near neighbour, the rapha cycle club. there is a difference between the two that lurked under the surface, whichever particular establishment floated your cleat. rapha only ever intended to stay open long enough to feature the giro and subsequently, the tour de france, before closing its doors for good; at least in the short term. lmnh, on the other hand, was and is, a very long-term proposition. that the two opened within about a week of each other truly was a total coincidence.

rapha was all about coffee, a smattering of good food, and the road-racing experience, featuring that exceptionally long table, cycle magazines from around the world, road-racing on a big sharp telly, and a constant stream of well curated exhibitions downstairs. and it sold rapha clothing. lmnh is all about good food, great coffee, evening events, cycle racing on the big screen, and as its unique selling point, bike repair.

look mum no hands

lewin chalkley, manager at look mum no hands said "much of our business comes from local people who cycle, but come to us because we're their closest good coffee / place to hang out, not because they want to be around bikes, if that makes sense." on the other hand, rapha ceo, simon mottram stated that they had created the cycle club to celebrate road racing in all its forms, and to provide somewhere appropriate for those who share our pain and suffering". despite pleas to rapha to keep the club open longer, or even forever, the plan had always been to close after the tour, a plan that has more logic to support it than at first it seems.

the frenzy if that's not too strong a word, that surrounds road racing culture tends to peak at tour time, having built steadily since the giro, and subsequently the dauphine, it's unlikely this would sustain itself through to the vuelta, though i'm sure that there would be those willing to disagree. thus, for a club that has its roots planted firmly in the celebration of road-racing, a limited run seems commercially and morally plausible.

so now that the rapha club has vacated the london scene, how has business at look mum no hands changed, if at all, and taking rapha's reasons for exit as my lead, does lewin have any fears over the impending winter season? "rapha closed at the same time that the tour finished, so it's difficult to say, but i'd like to think some of rapha's customers will find a sympathetic home at lmnh.
i've been selling coffee for years. winter doesn't scare me, as hot drink sales generally go up. the lack of road cycling on the screen will be made up for by cyclo-cross, mountain biking and the other stuff that's out there. we have all sorts of events lined up to keep things exciting, and hosting the great brownie bake off in october which we're really excited about."

rapha london

the one thing that rapha didn't have, that is an integral part of lmnh, is a bicycle workshop, providing, in some cases, cycle repair while you much (and sup). as something of an oddball fixture, did they ever now feel that this should have been left on the start-line and concentrated on just a cafe? and now, with hopefully an extra influx from those previously used to the sportwool ambience, was there enough room at the old street premises? "the space could always be bigger, but the workshop holds its own and is getting busier. there's a tussle for space, but the workshop is important to us, not just for the money  it brings in, but because it means we are a real working bike cafe and we like that."

rapha, on the other hand, closed the london club, and almost simultaneously opened a second in new york city, the first two baby steps in what it is hoped will be a global operation, shifting the rapha experience around the world for a few months at a time before moving on. had they learned anything from the london club? were there any suprises? "we don't do surprises. pretty much everything is meticulously planned, so we knew what we were getting into from the start. having said that, the one thing that was unexpected was the amount of rapha clothing we sold. that was never the primary objective."

but, as i indicated above, the rapha cycle club has now moved to new york city, where its tenure has only a few more weeks to run before it too, closes its doors to nyc's cycling cognoscenti. while new york has made considerable progress in turning itself from a cyclist's nightmare into one where bicycles and cars can more happily co-exist, it's a different place in a different country, though i see no reason why the recent fastest mechanic in nyc couldn't be translated to anywhere else in the world. i asked slate olson, rapha's north american manager, if he thought it was too soon to tell whether the word success could be applied?

rapha nyc

"i don't think its too soon to call it. the cycle club in nyc has been a great adventure for us. i'd have to say it's been a success.  a huge part of that is because mike spriggs has done an amazing job running it. he's really good and is perfectly new york."

slate's hometown of portland has such an incredibly strong cycling culture, that a rapha cycle club would surely become just part of the furniture in that particular corner of oregon. but does he think that the rapha experience could survive twelve months of the year in the city that never sleeps?
"i do think that a full-time rapha cycle club in nyc would thrive. we aren't ready to do that yet, and the space we have isn't exactly right, but i believe we have found a niche that isn't otherwise served in new york, and i don't know that there is anyone ready to take up our 'slack' when we leave. i suppose cyclists will go back to their coffee shops and have to be disappointed because nobody is showing the races (except for great shops like nyc velo). certainly nobody will have a 40' table and big screens pumping in racing and great racing movies while stumptown coffee is brewing in the background."

so, while all this coffee and cycling activity has been confined to the big cities, i think they have made a lasting mark upon our obsessive little world; the flattery would be in imitation, should it appear in any similar form in any part of the cycling world. we're already trying to persuade debbie that a widescreen tv in time for the 2011 giro would be an excellent idea (up till now, headway has not been made, but there's time yet). surely the idea will become as much a part of the fabric of our lives as rouleur, the tour series, and the tour of britain?

i'll leave the final word to look mum no hands' lewin chalkley; "we have cunning plans. we're incredibly happy with our first few months. people like us a lot. we like our customers. we're twice as busy as we'd hoped to be. we've realised that this can work. turning sales into profit is now our mission."

look mum no hands photos by ben brannan.

look mum no hands | rapha


posted thursday 16 september 2010

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mountain bike syndrome - privateer

privateer issue 1

here we find ourselves in the wonderful world of pigeonholing yet again, a strange compartmentalised part of life that rears its ugly head with greater frequency than is perhaps ultimately desirable. i have created almost a mantra out of 'the post doesn't do mountain biking' which is a truism, but not altogether dogmatic. my early years on this happy little island were spent getting muddy, and breaking bits on my muddy fox. it's perhaps an early indicator of advancing years that mud, glorious mud began to lose its allure, along with the practical necessity of having to ride to and from one's playground on knobbly tyres. this is a practice akin to riding through treacle, often leaving the less than athletically inclined puffing and panting before the principal activity had yet begun.

if truth be known, and i am sure i have paid lip service to this previously, i don't do mountain biking because there are already many others who do so far better than i ever could. i know my place.

despite being resident of a fabulously rural and rugged environment, skinny wheels and bendy bars provided a more than viable alternative; simply close the back gate, and my recreation had already begun. this sort of coincided with the increasing propensity for mountain bikes to resemble farm gates with springs, and the second coming of hydraulics was, for me, a step too far. i delight in the simplicity that is, or at least was, the average road bike of the time. sort of disappointingly, even the skinny variety is now showing distinct tendencies towards higher tech, but i can simply put my head in the sand and pretend that's not happening.

privateer issue 1

road cycling, by virtue of its longevity, has a history and heritage that will likely never run out, particularly in the light of its continuation to this day. thus websites such as the post and others, along with colourful print from across the world, have a breadth of subject matter that can not only educate, but may continue to entertain and enthrall for decades to come. and it is a pleasant surprise to find that there are those not only intent but capable of re-inventing the wheel, if you'll pardon the pun.

it seems only yesterday but is in fact more like four years ago, that rouleur magazine entered the road-going psyche, and arguably increased the quality of both the written word and photography amongst the skinny wheel cognoscenti. not necessarily the ideal time to begin a print-based publication, and certainly not one that hit the upper limits of the monthly allowance, rouleur has not only achieved a level of success that does it proud, but its influence on other cycling publications and photographers cannot surely go unheralded. and if you're a twitter follower, this is something of which you may already be aware.

privateer issue 1

so whither the mountain bike? a child of the eighties in the uk and born of hippies in california in the seventies, it's easy to see that the heritage and historical element is somewhat more compact and bijou. other than a constant stream of bicycle and equipment reviews, along with rider profiles and interviews, the hapless mtb editor must feel the poorer relation when it comes to editorial content. one wonders, therefore, whether the chaps at rouleur towers could begin to do the same for the knobbly tyre brigade, as they have done for the sportwool crowd? surely something that could be debated from now until next tour de france podium.

thankfully, rouleur publications are more pragmatic publishers than debating society, and commencing next month, will publish a rather luxurious magazine (which seems too drab a word for the copy on the chair next to me) entitled privateer. i will not even begin to doubt that they can maintain the standard of this initial offering, for rouleur has been a constant tirade of stunning improvement and surprise over its four or five year history, that i have confidence the same will be the case for privateer. the magazine's editor, tym manley, will be no stranger to many of the offroad fraternity.

privateer issue 1

issue one (the second issue will appear in february 2011, and bi-monthly thereafter) features the eccentric gary fisher and his grateful dead light show, a helpful consideration of where british mountain biking has been, and whether the old days were the best, and a superb photo essay on the work of those unsung heroes, the mechanics. and more. 146 pages makes for a hefty launch issue; if you are already familiar with rouleur, privateer will need no more introduction; quality printing, quality paper and quality content. a superb mix, and one that i found not only impressive, but highly readable and entertaining.

and not only do i not ride on the dark side, i don't even own a bicycle capable of doing so.

issue one of privateer costs £9, and can be purchased directly from, from where subscriptions can also be arranged.


posted wednesday 14 september 2010

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